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John Cipollina 5/1989

May 29, 1989 (aged 45) John Cipollina and his twin sister Manuela were born in Berkeley, California, on August 24, 1943. Cipollina attended Tamalpais High School, in Mill Valley, California, as did his brother, Mario(born 1954), and sister, Antonia (born 1952). Their father, Gino, was of Italian ancestry. He was a realtor, and his mother, Evelyn, and godfather, José Iturbi, were concert pianists. John showed great promise as a classical pianist in his youth, but his father gave him a guitar when he was 12 and this quickly became his primary instrument.

Trained as a classical pianist, John Cipollina however didn’t just play the usual pentatonic rock and blues riffs; he meandered about the fretboard, producing a plethora of melodic and evocative notes, inflected with plenty of whammy bar, his signature, particularly during the psychedelic era. Simply stated, nobody played lead guitar like John Cipollina!

One of the forerunners of the San Francisco Bay Area sound in the middle 1960s, Cipollina played lead guitar for the fabulous Quicksilver Messenger Service, until the band went “poppy” in the early 1970s. Man do I remember playing Who do you love and Mona. Epic.

Cipollina had a unique guitar sound, mixing solid state and valve amplifiers as early as 1965. He is considered one of the fathers of the San Francisco sound, a form of psychedelic rock.

I like the rapid punch of solid-state for the bottom, and the rodent-gnawing distortion of the tubes on top.

To create his distinctive guitar sound, Cipollina developed a one-of-a-kind amplifier stack. His Gibson SG guitars had two pickups, one for bass and one for treble. The bass pickup fed into two Standel bass amps on the bottom of the stack, each equipped with two 15-inch speakers. The treble pickups fed two Fender amps: a Fender Twin Reverb and a Fender Dual Showman that drove six Wurlitzer horns.

After leaving Quicksilver in 1971, Cipollina formed the band Copperhead with early Quicksilver member Jim Murray (who was soon to leave for Maui, Hawaii), former Stained Glass member Jim McPherson, drummer David Weber, Gary Phillipet (AKA Gary Phillips (keyboardist), later a member of Bay Area bands Earthquake and The Greg Kihn Band), and Pete Sears. Sears was shortly thereafter replaced by current and longtime Bonnie Raitt bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson who played on the Copperhead LP and stayed with the band for its duration. Copperhead disbanded in mid 1974 after becoming a staple in the SF Bay Area and touring the West Coast, Hawaii (Sunshine Crater Fest on New Years Day of 1973 with Santana), the South (opening dates for Steely Dan) and the Midwest.

In May 1974 Cipollina and Link Wray, whose playing and style had influenced John as a young musician and who he had met through bassist Hutch Hutchinson, performed a series of shows together along the West Coast (with Copperhead rhythm section Hutchinson & Weber and keyboardist David Bloom) culminating at The Whiskey in LA where they performed for four nights (May 15–19) on a bill with Lighthouse (band). Cipollina continued to occasionally perform with Wray for the next couple of years.

In 1975, the Welsh psychedelic band Man toured the United States, towards the end of which, they played two gigs at the San Francisco Winterland (March 21 and 22), which were such a success that promoter Bill Graham paid them a bonus and rebooked them. While waiting for the additional gigs, the band met and rehearsed with John Cipollina, who played with them at Winterland in April 1975. After this, Cipollina agreed to play a UK tour which took place in May 1975, during which their “Roundhouse gig” was recorded.

Rumors that Micky Jones had to overdub Cipollina’s parts, as his guitar was out of tune, before their Maximum Darkness album could be released are exaggerated; only one track, “Bananas”, was to have his track replaced, per Deke Leonard. “Everything … which sounds like Cipollina is Cipollina.”

During the 1980s, Cipollina performed with a number of bands, including Fish & Chips, Thunder and Lightning, the Dinosaurs and Problem Child. He was a founding member of Zero and its rhythm guitarist until his death. Most often these bands played club gigs in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Cipollina was well-known

Cipollina died on May 29, 1989, at age 45. His cause of death was alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a lung disease, which he suffered from most of his life and which is exacerbated by smoking.

Quicksilver Messenger Service fans paid tribute to him the following month in San Francisco at an all-star concert at the Fillmore Auditorium which featured Nicky Hopkins, Pete Sears, David Freiberg, and John’s brother Mario, an original member of Huey Lewis and the News. Cipollina’s one of a kind massive amplifier stack was donated, along with one of his customized Gibson SG guitars, and effects pedals, for display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1995.

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Pete de Freitas 6/1989

pete-de-freitasJune 14, 1989 – Peter Louis Vincent Pete de Freitas (Echo & The Bunnymen) was born one of 9 siblings on 2 August 1961 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago and educated by the Benedictines at Downside School in Somerset, South England. His father was famous copyright attorney Dennis de Freitas,

He joined the Echo & The Bunnymen in 1979 to replace Echo, the band’s drum machine.

In the beginning they were like a little clockwork band. Just three young Liverpudlians and a drum machine called Echo. The Bunnymen played their frail, tick-tock tunes in little rooms, and looked as if they might split up on the spot if you asked them to. But there was a definite magic being born. They got better by the day, and nearly became the biggest group in the world. For a time in the 1980s they were the darlings of the British rock scene, and perhaps its brightest hopes.

In 1980 they released their debut LP which hit #17 on the UK Chart, followed by the EP ‘Shine So Hard,’ it was the first album to crack UK’s Top 40 Chart. In 1981 they released ‘Heaven Up Here,’ thanks to many great reviews,it became the band’s biggest Top Ten UK album. In 1983 they released ‘Porcupine’ and launched the Top Ten single, ‘Fine Cutter.’ In 1984 they released “The Killing Moon” which became there second Top Ten hit. Also that year they released the album, ‘Ocean Rain,’ it hit #4 in Britain and the album went into the US’s Top 100.

A sign of trouble came when Pete de Freitas temporarily absconded from the band in late 1985, throwing himself into a doomed group called The Sex Gods, on a lurid American “lost weekend” of rock’n’roll debauchery and regular car crashes.

Drug escapades, insecurity, and manic delusions were to take their toll on the man manager Bill Drummond says was once “the sanest and most balanced of the Bunnymen.” The madness peaked in 1986 when he relocated his freewheeling solo project, The Sex Gods, to New Orleans, where his behaviour became even more unpredictable. “Pete basically was having a breakdown,” said his brother, Geoff.

Shortly after, in September 1986, he returned to the Bunnymen and in 1987, De Freitas married, while his daughter Lucie Marie was born the following year. But whatever personal strides he was beginning to make, they were sadly cut short by the motorcycle accident that ended his life at age 27 on his way to Liverpool from London.

He died on June 15, 1989 at age 27, another member of the 27 Club.

The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch said: “I remember the day he died, playing Marquee Moon and crying over the line ‘I fell sideways laughing with a friend from many stages…’ because that’s exactly what he was.”

A little more than 20 years later Jake Brockman, another touring member of the band also died in a motorcycle accident in much the same way on the Isle of Man

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John Cipollina 5/1989

john-cipollinaMay 29, 1989 – John Cipollina. He and his twin sister Michaela were born August 24, 1943 in Berkely, California, into what he described as a musical family. (There is also another sister, Antonia, and a brother, Mario who was the bass player in Huey Lewis and the News.) Cipollina’s mother, Evelyn, was an opera singer, a protege of the classical pianist Jose Iturbi, who became the twins’ godfather. Cipollina was born with chronic asthma and had to be held upright to fall asleep. (It was a condition that would not prevent him from becoming a chain smoker, however.) In his infancy, he lived in San Salvador and Guatemala, moving to Mill Valley, California, when he was six.

Naturally, the first instrument Cipollina was taught to play was the piano, as early as the age of two, but he began to be attracted to the guitar in his early teens. He recalled riding in the car with his mother and hearing Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” on the radio. “I look over at my mother and I go, ‘What’s that?’” he said, “and she goes, ‘It’s an electric guitar.’” Cipollina had heard acoustic guitars and amplified guitars, but never an electric guitar, and never the single note lines of Mickey Baker. “I really identified with it,” Cipollina said. “I thought, ‘You just said the ‘F word,’ without saying any words. Nobody in my family could bend a note on a keyboard. I thought, ‘God, that’s really cool!’”

Before long, Cipollina was absorbing the playing of Scotty Moore, James Burton and Link Wray, though at his parent’s insistence, he took classical lessons for a short time. “I drove this guy nuts,” he said of his instructor, “because everything I wanted to do, he didn’t want me to do. Then after I had thoroughly snowed my parents, I went out and got an electric guitar and completely forsaked everything else.”

Cipollina was in his first band, the Penetrators, by 1959. “It was more of a gang than a band,” he said. The gang played the popular rock’n’roll of the time – Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino – at high school dances.

But as the ‘50s gave way to the early ‘60s, rock faded in favor of folk music. Cipollina, now about to turn 20, and in a band called the Deacons, didn’t change his style. “Folk music was hip and cool and avant-garde,” he said “and I’m still a rocker. I’m still punking around. I’ve still got my long shirt on and I got my dark glasses.” Along with his black Dan-Electro guitar, it wasn’t a look that went down well at hootenannies.

Cipollina took up playing what he called the “steak and lobster” circuit, handling requests for “Girl From Ipanema,” while, in the daylight hours, trying to become a real estate salesman. Meanwhile, his living arrangements had become unusual. “I hung out with a bunch of crazy flamenco guitar players in a troupe,” he said. “I was living in a huge ferry boat with 11 other people and we were paying a little under $3 a month rent – we were still late on the rent!”

In 1964, Cipollina finally began to run into people who wanted to play rock’n’roll many of them coming out of the folk movement. There was Chet Powers (who changed his name to Dino Valenti and, later, Jessy Oris Farrow), a budding songwriter who wrote “Get Together” and was managed by disc jockey and record company owner Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue. And there was Jim Murray, a harmonica player who learned guitar.

It was Valenti who organized the group. “I can remember everything Dino said,” Cipollina recalled. “We were all going to have wireless guitars. We were going to have leather jackets made with hooks that we could hook these wireless instruments right into. And we were going to have these chicks, backup rhythm sections, that were going to dress like American Indians with real short little dresses on and they were going to have tambourines and the clappers in the tambourines wer going to be silver coins. And I’m sitting there going, ‘This guy is going to happen and we’re going to set the world on its ear.’” The next day, Valenti was arrested for possession of marijuana. He would spend the better part of the next two years in jail.

As Valenti went into jail, David Freiberg, a folk guitarist friend of his, who had been in a band with Paul Kanter and David Crosby, got out. “We were to take care of this guy Freiberg,” Cipollina said, and though they had never met before, Freiberg was added to the group. The band also added Skip Spence on guitar, and began to rehearse at Marty Balin’s club, the Marix. Balin, in search of a drummer for the band he was organizing, soon to be called Jefferson Airplane, convinced Spence to switch instruments and groups.

It was this odd circumstance, however, that led to the gelling of Cipollina’s band, since Balin, to make up for the theft, suggested they contact drummer Greg Elmore and guitarist-singer Gary Duncan, formerly of a group called the Brogues. This new version of the band had its first paying gig in December 1965, playing for the Christmas party of the comedy troupe the Committee.

The band gained financial backing from the Committee’s management, which in turn was working with Bill Graham, then part of the Mime Troup, and so Quicksilver Messenger Service became one of the early bands featured at the San Francisco dances that Graham promoted in 1966.

How the name Quicksilver Messenger Service came about

“Jim Murray and David Freiberg came up with the name,” said Cipollina. “Me and Feiberg were born on the same day, and Gary and Greg were born the same day; we were all Virgos and Murray was Gemini. And Virgos and Geminis are all ruled by the planet Mercury. Another name for Mercury is Quicksilver. Quicksilver is the messenger of the gods, and Virog is the servant. So Freiberg says, ‘Oh, Quicksilver Messenger Service.’”

By this time, of course, Valenti was finally out of jail, but according to Cipollina, he passed on rejoining the group he had started unless Elmore and Duncan were dropped. The band declined.

The quintet of Cipollina, Murray, Freiberg, Duncan, and Elmore became one of the top San Francisco bands, headlining over such contemporaries as the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms in 1966 and 1967, and even playing at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. But unlike the other bands, Quicksilver delayed signing a record contract.

“We didn’t want to sign,” said Cipollina, explaining that, early on, the group had gotten a bad taste in its mouth about record companies since it felt it had not received support from Donahue and his Autumn Records, and had then been rejected by other companies. By 1966 and 1967, when the major labels were coming to San Francisco with their checkbooks, “we didn’t need them,” Cipollina said. “We had no use for them, and we were unsigned. And we were making more money. We would make double the money of the guys who had the record contract.

“We watched everybody else. We watched the Dead, who used to be a fairly funny band, and they were happy-go-lucky, groovin’ kind of guys. And we’d come by and we’d see them getting’ real serious and talking about having to pay back the company. And we watched Jefferson Airplane. They got a record contract and they were just hustling all of the time. Somebody gives you a whole bunch of money one day, and the next day you owe all this money back.”

Reasonable as this sounds, it meant that Quicksilver was not heard on record until after the first blush of publicity and notoriety about San Francisco and the Summer of Love had already passed. They never had the chance to ride that wave to national popularity, as Jefferson Airplane did in the summer of 1967, and, as it turned out, they didn’t stick around long enough to build a loyal mass following, as the Dead did.

The group finally signed to Capitol Records in the fall of 1967, at which time Murray quit. He did stay around long enough to work on the first recording sessions, which produced two songs used on the soundtrack for the film Revolution, issued in March 1968.

It was as a quartet, however, that Quicksilver recorded their first album at the end of 1967. “The first album was the easiest because we didn’t know any better,” Cipollina said. “We didn’t know what constituted making an album. I had lots of trouble in the old days. In those days, when you would record, they had a huge red light, a hundred-watt lightbulb sitting on a floor stand, that would light up ominously when the record button was on. Besides, they had a sign outside that said, ‘Recording. Do Not Open This Door.’ And every time that red light would go on, I would just freeze up. It took me a couple of days to convince these guys, ‘You gotta just get rid of that light, man! I don’t want to know what’s going on!’”

Released in May 1968, Quicksilver Messenger Service featured “Pride Of Man,” a former folk song written by Hamilton Camp (since reclaimed for folkies by the Washington Squares) and a 12-minute song by Duncan and Freiberg called “The Fool.” Rolling Stone, the arbiter of all things from San Francisco at the time, pronounced the album too derivative of the Electric Flag, though it was complimentary toward Cipollina’s playing. The album entered the Billboard charts on June 22, and reached #63, staying in the charts for 25 weeks, a better showing than the Grateful Dead’s Anthem Of The Sun, but far below Jefferson Airplane’s Top 10 Crown Of Creation, and Big Brother And The Holding Company’s chart-topping Cheap Thrills.

Cipollina’s remarks indicate a vast preference for playing live over studio work, a common opinion among San Francisco musicians of the time. Accordingly, the band’s second album, Happy Trails, was recorded live in the fall of 1968. “Live recording was easy,” Cipollina said. “The second album was live, and it was a piece of cake. I think it was probably the best album we ever did, for that reason.”

But there were other problems. “The band started to fall apart during that one,” Cipollina said. “Gary Duncan quit the band as soon as we started recording it, which took a lot of the fire out of the band.” Surprisingly, Duncan hooked up with Valenti, who had released a solo album in 1968.

Happy Trails was released in the spring of 1969. It entered the charts on March 29 and rose to #27, far better than the first album (and roughly the same showing as the band’s next three albums would have). It has come to be remembered as the band’s best work. Even critic Dave Marsh, who is dismissive of Quicksilver, was impressed. “The group made only one noteworthy record, Happy Trails,” he wrote in The Rolling Stone Record Guide in 1979, “which catches them live, at their peak, on versions of ‘Who Do You Love’ and ‘Mona.’ Both tracks feature guitar extravaganzas by John Cipollina that are among the best instrumental work any San Francisco band did.”

Unfortunately, Quicksilver was not able to capitalize on their popular and critical success. “After we did the Happy Trails album, we took a year off,” Cipollina said. “This is when trios were happening, but we were not a power trio. Elmore could cover. Elmore loves trios. But Freiberg is not a trio bass player and I’m not a trio guitar player. ‘Cause, like a trio guitar player’s gotta use all six strings, which is something I’ve never gotten around to doing.”

To fill out the sound, Quicksilver surprisingly added keyboards. “I wanted a piano player.” Cipollina explained. “Quicksilver was the only band I had ever played in without keyboards. And I decided that we wanted (British session ace) Nicky Hopkins, even though I had never met the guy. I didn’t know anything about him; I decided that’s who we needed and the band went along with it. Nicky and I became real good friends and we ended up doing the third album, Shady Grove.” The album was recorded I the fall of 1969 and issued at the start of the new year.

Rolling Stone approved of the new sound. “The old Quicksilver was immediate, instrumentally flashing and frenzied,” wrote Gary Von Tersch. “The Quicksilver on Shady Grove has had its collective head turned around by Nicky Hopkins. The result is a more precise, more lyrical, and more textured Quicksilver.” It was also a short-lived Quicksilver, at least in this exact configuration.

“Quicksilver was slated to play at the New Year’s gig at Winterland, ’69-70,” Cipollina said, “but by this time we were a little hesitant, because we had no singer other than David and we really had trouble writing songs. It took us a year to get the material for Shady Grove together. And of course the company wanted us to do more and more originals and we had more and more trouble doing that.

“When we got Nicky, now we had a full sound, but we didn’t really have the singers. Who comes back in town but Dino and Gary, and they heard our record. Everybody thought that we hated each other, so we said, ‘Let’s prove ‘em wrong. Let’s all go down there as friends.’ And Dino, of course, was always meant to be an original member of the band, and never was, and we thought, ‘How cool to go down and do a show. We’ll just blow everybody out.’ It was a one-shot thing. We went down, and we played the New Year’s show with us and the Dead, and we did so good that before the night was over, Graham had hired us to play at the Fillmore East the following week. And the Dead were setting up a tour and they asked us to come as a headliner. And it just seemed like a natural. So, out of that one gig, Dino and Gary were back in the band.”

This happy state of affairs lasted five months, until May 1970, when the band went to Hawaii and cut what turned out to be its next two albums, Just For Love and What About Me, albums dominated by the songs of Valenti (or Jesse Farrow, as he was called for contractual reasons).

“We started having differences,” Cipollina said. “First of all, I found out that the difference between a four-piece band and a six-piece band is I had less and less to do. And due to the music that we were doing, which was more folk-oriented than I was used to and very simple, there was less and less playing for me to do. So I just sat around and did less playing.”

Cipollina found other places to play. “Nicky turned me on to doing sessions,” he said, “which was not a cool thing. Being in the band was kind of like being married. And playing with somebody else was like cheating on your spouse. I can remember coming in one day after I had done a Brewer and Shipley track. I came into rehearsal and I got the cold stares and the cold shoulders. And finally, somebody said, ‘So you played with Brewer and Shipley!’ Like, ‘How could you,’ you know? ‘You’re sleeping on the couch tonight!’

“I got it put to me that, ‘Well, do you wanna play in a band, or do you wanna do sessions?’ I left Quicksilver (officially) October 5, 1970. Nicky and I left about May. That’s when the showdown came. But then we had obligations, so I ended up doing two more national tours up till October.”

Just For Love had been released in the summer of 1970, and What About Me came out at the start of the new year. Feiberg left the band in 1971 to join Paul Kanter and Grace Slick. Valenti, Duncan and Elmore carried on as Quicksilver for two more albums.

As for Cipollina, “I ended up doing about four years in the studio where basically that was all I did,” he said. “In fact, there was a magazine I read some place that quoted me, I was like at one time the busiest session man in San Francisco. Which is real misleading, anyway, ‘cause San Francisco isn’t that big of a recording town. But I was the busiest session man; I was working every day.”

Cipollina also put together a new band, Copperhead, that featured, at various times, Jim McPearson on keyboards, Hutch Hutchinson on bass, Pete Sears on bass and keyboards, Gary Phlippet on guitar, keyboards and vocals, and Dave Weber on drums. “I started looking for new directions, because I was so burned out at that time with the San Francisco bands,” Cipollina said. “At first, we were all fighting for individuality, and we fought so hard that we were stereotyped. I thought, man, if I see another pair of Levis with patches on the knees, and if I see another guitar with an STP sticker on it, I’m gonna puke. I started looking for something fresh.

“We were an early punk band. In fact, the term ‘punk rock’ was coined for one of the early reviews that Copperhead got, late ’70, early ’71. It was a San Francisco critic, in disdain, who said, well it’s not really San Francisco rock, and it’s not really hard rock, its’ kind of punk rock. And I thought, that looks good, that’s us. We did have a real bad attitude which I was really proud of. It might not have been commercial, but it was definitely more professional.”

Copperhead never got a chance to find out how commercial it might be. The group released an album on Columbia Records in May 1973, the same month that label president Clive Davis, who had signed them, was fired. “They’re cleaning out (Davis’s) desk,” Cipollina said, “and they find this contract for $1,350,000, and they went, ‘Who are these guys?’ So they killed the act. They printed, as far as I know, 60,000 units and that was just accidentally. And then they stopped it. And that was it. In fact, we talked to some booking agents and I found out later that CBS threatened them. They said, ‘If you book Copperhead we’ll take off every CBS act you got.’ They made sure we didn’t work. So by ’74 we just kind of drifted; there was no sense in it.”

But Copperhead was far from Cipollina’s only project at the time. He had met Terry Dolan shortly after his breakup with Quicksilver, and played in Dolan’s band, Terry and the Pirates, until his death. “I got my first time running in with Terry and my last session I did with Quicksilver back in 1970,” Cipollina said. “Nicky had already left Quicksilver and he was producing this guy Terry Dolan. I had just left PHR (Pacific High Recording) studios. We were doing the last overdubs on the What About Me album. And then I ended up going to Wally Heider’s studio.

“I remember I got in a jam with (Jerry) Garcia and Jorma (Kaukonen) and a bunch of bozos. It was just one of those things you do when you don’t want to go home, you know? It was about four in the morning and I’m almost ready to go home now. I got a call from Nicky saying, ‘Hey, come on over, man, I’m over at Lone State Recorders. You ought to come over here, it’s a lot of fun. I’m doing a session. We’d really like you to put a track down or two.’ So I went over there and that’s how I ran into Terry. And then he kept doing sessions and then somewhere along the line, I guess it was after Copperhead, or during Copperhead, he decided to do some gigs. They were real easy and it was a lot of fun. After Copperhead, I ended up playing a lot in Terry and the Pirates. And then of course I went and did the Man thing.”

Man, a Welsh band led by Mickey Jones, Terry Williams and Deke Leonard, had been heavily influenced by Cipollina. “They came to San Francisco and they were big fans and they wanted to meet me,” he said. “So I went in and I met them and they immediately accused me of not being me. I didn’t live up to their expectations at all. They said, ‘Aw, you can’t be him. How tall are you?’ And I said, ‘I’m five-nine.’ And they said, ‘Everybody knows Cipollina’s at least six-two to six-four.’ I said, ‘Bullshit.’ They said, ‘We’ve seen pictures of Quicksilver. He’s a big, tall guy.’ And I actually showed them my license.

“I had never had anybody accuse me of not being me before. It was weird. Deke Leonard said, ‘Well, if you’re Cipollina, here, play something like him. And I don’t know how ‘he’ plays, you know? So we did a jam and I guess I passed.” Cipollina played with the band at the Winterland in San Francisco, and agreed to return with them to England. He appeared on their Maximum Darkness album, released in 1975. but the association was short-circuited by a call from home.

“We were just about to go to Spain,” Cipollina said, “and I got a call from the States saying, ‘Hey, we got Quicksilver back together.’ Before I’d left, somebody had asked me if I would ever play with Quicksilver again. And I was very explicit. I said, ‘Yes, but only if it was the original musicians and you got everybody to agree with it.’ So I went back and did the Quicksilver reunion (Solid Silver), and then did two tours coast to coast with the band.” The album, which came out in the fall of 1975, was only a moderate seller, peaking at #89, and the Quicksilver reunion proved a temporary affair.

Still working with Dolan and doing sessions, Cipollina moved on to a new band project, organized in a typically offhand way. “I had gotten involved at a party with a bunch of L.A. bigwigs and we were all under the influences of whatever,” he said. “We were quite egotistical, including myself. And somebody said, ‘Do you write songs?’ ‘Oh, yeah, I write, sure, you bet!’ ‘Well do you got any new material?’ ‘You bet! I just spit ‘em out, man, like gum.’ And they said, ‘Well, God, we gotta get you in the studio, love to hear your stuff.’ So, three years later, they finally said, ‘Come on, are you gonna go in or not?’ And at the time I had a couple of tunes that I had written and I was ready to put down and I had to pull a band together.

“So I got members of the last three bands that I had worked with, who were Quicksilver, Copperhead, and Terry and the Pirates. And I put Raven together in the beginning of ’76. I went in the studio and cut a bunch of my stuff and we had so much fun in the studio, we looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, let’s do some gigs. Come on, what do you say?’ And that’s how Raven started, and then it just got to be crazy. We only did about four gigs.”

Though recorded in 1976, the resulting Raven album would not be released until 1980, and then on the German Line Records label. Cipollina sold the Raven album to Line while on a tour of Germany with Nick Gravenites, the blues-rock singer, who had produced and played with Quicksilver. It was one of many tours he would undertake with Gravenites, another association that lasted until his death.

Along with his work with Dolan and Gravenites, Cipollina continued to do extensive studio work throughout the 1980s, and to play in San Francisco-based bands in a bewildering profusion. Bands like Thunder and Lightning and Problem Child, with whom Cipollina frequently played on the Bay Area club circuit, never recorded. But other bands, such as the Ghosts, the post-Grateful Dead band led by Keith and Donna Godchaux, did make records. The Ghosts metamorphosed into the Heart of Gold Band after Keith Godchaux’s death and, eventually, into Zero, which issued an album on Relix Records in 1987. Another major affiliation for Cipollian was the Dinosaurs, a band consisting of former members of various San Francisco bands, including former Country Joe And The Fish guitarist Barry Melton, that eventually issued an album on Relix in 1988.

Despite this activity, Cipollina was in declining health. He was sidelined for three months in 1988 due to respiratory problems. When traveling, he reportedly used wheelchairs in airports because he couldn’t walk long distances. The steroids prescribed by doctors for his disease weakened his hip bones, forcing him to use crutches offstage, and he usually sat while playing. Of course, performing in smoke-filled clubs was bad for his health, but he refused to stop playing, even completing a tour of Greece with Gravenites this spring. On Monday, May 29, 1989 he was rushed to Marin General Hospital after an asthma attack. He died in the later evening hours.

Cipollina was cremated and his ashes were spread on Mt. Tamalpais in San Francisco on June 1. He had been scheduled to play with Thunder and Lightning at the Chi Chi Club in San Francisco on June 2, and Gravenites and his band Animal Mind, joined by Mario Cipollina and Greg Elmore, played a tribute show instead. But no one in the room could have played guitar like John Cipollina. No one ever did. Rolling Stone Magazine rated him nr. 32 on the list of best guitar players.

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Ron Wilson 5/1989

ron-wilson-the-surfarisMay 7, 1989 – Ronald Lee “Ron” Wilson was born on June 26, 1944 in Los Angeles.

Wilson played Drums for a high school band Charter Oak Lancers in Covina, California in 1962. The members of the outfit were inspired by Boston born surf guitarist Dick Dale, but it was drummer Ron Wilson who inspired the biggest hit of the Surf Music genre.

As one of the original members of The Surfaris, an early surf rock group formed in Glendora, California in 1962, he introduced  a vigorous cadence-laced drumming style which made their music much more energetic than other surf bands.

Wilson said he had dreamed of a surfer and with the others wrote a song called “Surfer Joe”, sung by Wilson. It was recorded at Pal Studios in Cucamonga, California in January 1963.

The band needed a B-side and Wilson played a drummer’s practice exercise called a paradiddle. Wilson added stresses to what had been a rhythm he played in his school marching band, and the guitarists followed. According to band member Bob Berryhill, “Ronnie loved Scottish marches and played with our high school Tartan marching band. That came into play coupled with my suggestion of bongo rock-type breaks for an arrangement, a drum-solo type of song with a simple guitar melody. Ronnie started playing the famous Wipe Out solo and in about ten minutes we had the song together.”

His energetic drum solo made ‘Wipe Out’ the best-remembered instrumental of the period. The band toured in various forms for many years and at times invited members of the audience to attempt Wilson’s drum riff while the guitarists played the melody.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Wilson was the drummer with the Monica Dupont band, which included Mel Brown, Johnny Heartsman, Bobby Forte’ and from time to time Bard Dupont. They recorded Honky Tonk live at the Stony Inn, in Sacramento, California available as a free download at

He was only 44 when he died of a brain aneurysm on May 7, 1989

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Bennie Benjamin 5/1989

Bennie_BenjaminMay 2, 1989 – Claude A. “Bennie” Benjamin was born on November 4th 1907 in Christiansted on the island of St.Croix in the Danish Virgin Islands, which became US territory 10 years later. At the age of twenty, he moved to New York City. There, he studied the banjo and guitar with Hy Smith. He then performed in vaudeville and with various orchestras, until, in 1941, he started composing songs.

In 1946, Benjamin teamed with George David Weiss a partnership that would produce jewels like “Rumors Are Flying”, “Surrender”, “Confess”, “I Don’t See Me In Your Eyes Anymore”, “Can Anyone Explain? (No, No, No)”, “Echoes”, “I’ll Never Be Free”, “To Think You’ve Chosen Me”, “I Ran All the Way Home”, “Jet”, “Wheel of Fortune”, “Cross Over the Bridge” and “How Important Can It Be”.

In the late 1950’s and 60’s, he worked with Sol Marcus on “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, “I Am Blessed”, “Of This I’m Sure”, “Our Love (Will See Us Through)”, “How Can I?”, “Fabulous Character” and “Lonely Man”. Misunderstood became a megahit for the Animals as well as Nina Simone.

Other songs include “Anyone (Could Fall In Love With You)”, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”, “Confess”, “Strictly Instrumental”, “I Am Blessed”, “Of This I’m Sure” and “Don’t Take All Night”.

In 1968, Benjamin finally formed his own publishing company, Bennie Benjamin Music. In addition to his enormous catalog, Benjamin also collaborated on music and theme songs for movies including Fun and Fancy Free and Melody Time.

Bennie was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984.

He died on May 2, 1989 at the age of 81.

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Doc Green Jr 3/1989

Dock Green JrMarch 10, 1989 – Doc Green Jr (The Drifters) was born on November 8th 1934. Green began singing on Harlem street corners as a youngster and joined the Drifters sometime after it was formed in the mid-1950s. Until then he was a member of The Five Crowns but joined when in 1958 manager George Treadwell, who owned the rights to the name “Drifters”, but had sacked the whole band, approached Lover Patterson, the manager of The Five Crowns featuring lead singer Ben E. King, wanting his band to adopt the appellation of The Drifters.

The singers, whose hits were to include “There Goes My Baby,” “Sweets for My Sweet,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and “Up on the Roof,” initially called themselves Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters during the late 1950s. The name was later shortened to the Drifters. According to the anthology “Who’s Who in Rock,” the name was used because so many of the members “drifted” back and forth to other groups.

So the new line-up of The Drifters consisted of Doc as baritone, Ben E King (lead tenor), Charlie Thomas (tenor), and Elsbeary Hobbs (bass). The group went out on the road to tour for almost a year. Since this new group had no connection to the prior Drifters, they often played to hostile audiences. This new Drifter lineup, widely considered the “true” golden age of the group, released several singles with King on lead that became chart hits.

“There Goes My Baby”, the first commercial rock-and-roll recording to include a string orchestra, was a Top 10 hit, and number 193 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. “Dance with Me” followed, and then “This Magic Moment” No.16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. “Save the Last Dance for Me” reached No.1 on the U.S. pop charts and No.2 in the UK. This was followed by “I Count The Tears.”

This version of The Drifters was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000 as Ben E. King and the Drifters.



The original group broke up in the late 1960s, although a variety of acts continued to use the name.

His family said Green continued working as a singer with other groups, including, most recently, Vito and the Salutations.

He died after his battle with cancer on March 10, 1989 at age 54.

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Vincent Crane 2/1989

Vincent CraneFeb 14, 1989 – Vincent Crane – (Atomic Rooster) was born Vincent Rodney Cheesman on 21 May 1943 in Reading, Berkshire, England.

He taught himself boogie woogie piano as a teenager before attending Trinity College of Music between 1961 and 1964. Influenced by Graham Bond, he took up Hammond organ and in 1967 and teamed up with Arthur Brown in The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Their eponymous debut album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (1968) contained the song “Fire”, a chart-topping hit single in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, with Crane’s organ and brass arrangement to the fore.
During their first tour of the USA in 1968, Crane suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to the UK where he spent 3 or 4 months in the mental hospital at Banstead.

Crane rejoined the band but on a subsequent tour of the USA, the band disintegrated in June 1969 when Arthur Brown temporarily disappeared to a commune and Crane and drummer Carl Palmer (later of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) left to form Atomic Rooster, playing their first concert at the Lyceum in London on 29 August headlining over Deep Purple. Atomic Rooster enjoyed success in 1971 with two hit singles, “Tomorrow Night”, and “Devil’s Answer”. Crane was the one constant member of the band through their almost constantly changing lineups, and wrote a slim majority of their material.

Crane suffered from bipolar disorder from at least 1968 onwards, periodically necessitating treatment at both out- and inpatient mental health treatment facilities.

He collaborated with other musicians on a number of albums, including Rory Gallagher (Rory Gallagher, 1971), Arthur Brown (Faster Than The Speed Of Light, 1979), Peter Green, Richard Wahnfried and Dexys Midnight Runners (Don’t Stand Me Down, 1985). In 1983 he was part of the one-off blues outfit, Katmandu, with Ray Dorset, Len Surtees and Peter Green, who recorded the album A Case for the Blues.
Crane died of a deliberate overdose of Anadin tablets in 1989 at the age of 45.

Influenced by Graham Bond, in 1967 he teamed up with Arthur Brown in The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Their self-titled album in 1968 contained the song “Fire”, a chart-topping hit single in the UK, Canada, and the US, with Vincent’s organ on the leads. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown practically dissolved on tour in the U.S.A., when Crane and drummer Carl Palmer left to form Atomic Rooster in late 1969. They enjoyed success in 1971 with two hit singles, “Tomorrow Night”, and “Devil’s Answer”.

In 1983 he was part of the one-off blues outfit, Katmandu, with Ray Dorset and Green, who recorded the album A Case For The Blues

Crane lost his fight against manic depression with an overdose of painkillers on Valentine’s Day, 14 Feb. 1989. He was 45.

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Trevor Lucas 2/1989

Trevor Lucas with wife Sandy DennyFebruary 4, 1989 – Trevor George Lucas (Fairport Convention) was born in Bungaree, Victoria, Australia on December 25, 1943. He learned to play guitar in order to help with his dyslexia. In his youth, Lucas studied to become a carpenter and performed nights at local clubs in Melbourne from 1961 or 1962.

He released his first solo work in Australia, two tracks, “Old Time Religion” and “Dem Bones Gwine to Rise Again“, on the Various Artists’ extended play The Folk Attick Presents (1963). In mid-1964 he married his first wife, Cheryl. In late 1964 Lucas released a solo album, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean on EAST Records. He also appeared on a compilation album called “Australian Folk Festival”, which was recorded in August that year with other folk musicians, Tina Lawton, Paul Marks, Brian Mooney, Lenore Somerset and Martyn Wyndham-Read.

On New Year’s Eve 1964 Lucas boarded the Greek ship, RHMS Ellinis, and relocated to United Kingdom with Cheryl. In London he worked as a solo artist and accompanist at various folk clubs including The Troubadour. He performed at the International Folk Fest at Royal Albert Hall. Lucas released his second solo album, Overlander (1966), on Reality Records. In August 1967 Lucas, playing bass guitar, formed the folk band Eclection with fellow Australian Kerrilee Male on lead vocals, Georg Kajanus (as George Hultgreen) on guitar and lead vocals, Michael Rosen on guitar and lead vocals, and Gerry Conway on drums. In August 1968 they issued a self-titled album and continued until their breakup in October 1969. Lucas recalled the group, “a very underground, flower power group, based on a cross between the Jefferson Airplane and the Mamas and the Papas [it was] a good apprenticeship in electric music. I don’t think it created anything devastatingly good … We were all very naive … We got ripped off terribly”

At this time he was dating the lead singer of Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, and appeared on Fairport’s album Unhalfbricking.

In late 1969 Lucas, Denny and Conway formed Fotheringay after Denny left Fairport Convention – other members included Pat Donaldson on bass guitar and Jerry Donahue on guitar and vocals. In June 1970 Fotheringay released a self-titled album where Lucas provided acoustic guitar and vocals. The album included the Lucas-penned track, “The Ballad of Ned Kelly” (aka “Poor Ned”) and “Peace in the End” co-written with Denny. Fotheringay released only the one album and the band broke up the following year.

In 1972, Lucas organized and produced a one-off album “The Bunch” which featured 12 classic oldies favorites performed by past and (then) present members of Fairport Convention, as well other friends. He became a session musician and record producer for Bronco, Julie Covington, Al Stewart, The Strawbs and Richard & Linda Thompson.

In July to August 1972 Lucas was helping Fairport Convention record their album Rosie (February 1973) when he joined the group with Donahue. On 20 September 1973 Lucas and Denny married and shortly thereafter Denny rejoined Fairport Convention. In late 1975 Fairport started a long promotional tour and shortly afterwards Lucas, Denny and Donahue left the band. Lucas and Denny left because “we’d spent eight months on the road touring, and we’d been thinking of having a family and all that sort of thing”. Lucas assisted on Denny’s further solo work. In the mid-1970s the couple relocated to the village of Byfield in Northamptonshire, in July 1977 Denny gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Georgia Rose Lucas.

Then in April 1978, tragically Sandy had a fatal fall down a flight of stairs, leaving Trevor to raise their newborn daughter, Georgia, by himself.

Note: Sandy Denny had apparently suffered from substance abuse problems for some time, and by 1977 her addictions were obvious to others. Linda Thompson told The Guardian that shortly after the birth of their daughter Georgia in July 1977, Denny “was crashing the car and leaving the baby in the pub and all sorts of stuff.” Thompson also noted that the child was born prematurely, yet Denny seemed to have little concern for her new baby.

In late March 1978, while on holiday with her parents and baby Georgia in Cornwall, Denny was injured when she fell down a staircase and hit her head on concrete. Following the incident, Denny suffered from intense headaches; a doctor prescribed her the painkiller Distalgesic, a drug known to have fatal side effects when mixed with alcohol. On 13 April, concerned with his wife’s erratic behaviour and fearing for his daughter’s safety, Trevor Lucas left the UK and returned to his native Australia with their child. Four days later, Denny collapsed and fell into a coma while at a friend’s home. On 21 April, she died at Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon. Her death was ruled to be the result of a traumatic mid-brain hemorrhage and blunt force trauma to her head.

Lucas returned to England for her funeral, then in August, he was back in Melbourne, “I came here because it seemed like a good refuge … I’ve got a lot of family here, and I thought it was important for Georgia, my 13-month-old daughter, to have that sort of security”.

Lucas settled permanently in Australia after 1978. From 1979 and into the 1980s, Lucas was producing albums for Australian artists and later started working on scores for the film industry. In the 1980s, he was producing more albums and later started working on scores from the film industry. In 1985 he returned to England to work on a tribute album to Sandy Denny.

On 4 February 1989, Trevor Lucas died of a heart attack in his sleep, in Sydney, aged 45 years old. His children were left in the care of Elizabeth Hurtt-Lucas – his thread wife – who administered the estates of both Denny and Lucas. According to Australia rock music historian Ian McFarlane, Lucas “was one of the most acclaimed singer/songwriters Australia ever produced and although he was held in high regard in UK folk-rock circles, he remained virtually unknown in his homeland.”

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Paul Robi 2/1989

Paul RobiFebruary 1, 1989 – Paul Irvin Robi was born in New Orleans on August 20th 1931. He went on to become the lead tenor of the L.A group, The Platters in 1954.

At a time when rock ‘n’ roll was becoming the nation’s signature music, the Platters managed to appeal to both rock and traditional movements.

One of the most successful and romantic vocal groups of the 1950s, Robi stayed with the Platters for the next eleven years, and can be heard on all their many hits, including “Only You”, “The Great Pretender”, “Twilight Time”, “Smoke Gets In Your Eye’s” and “Harbour Lights”, selling in the millions of copies. In a single year–1958–the group had two gold records, both based on older songs: “Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

The Platters were formed by Herbert Reed in 1953 and originally included Reed, Robi, Lynch and Tony Williams. Later a woman, Zola Taylor, was added.

The group had 40 charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart between 1955 and 1967, including four no. 1 hits. The Platters were one of the first African American groups to be accepted as a major chart group and were, for a period of time, the most successful vocal group in the world.

As a group, the Platters began to have difficulties with the public after 1959, when the four male members were arrested in Cincinnati on drug and prostitution charges. Although none were convicted, their professional reputation was seriously damaged and US radio stations started removing their records from playlists, forcing the group to rely more heavily on European bookings. Robi left the group in 1965.

Along with the Platters, Robi was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

He died of pancreatic cancer at age 57 on February 1, 1989